Imagine how you would feel if one of those trick-or-treaters at your door was disguised not as a goblin, but as you.
While that idea can seem a bit far-fetched, it is similar to what a scammer does when they steal your identity. Armed with your credit card number, or your Social Security number or other bits of your private information, scammers are seeking whatever “treats” they can purchase with your money.
It is vital that you catch such theft as early as possible.
Here are some warning signs to watch for. If any of these apply to you, take action quickly.
• Your credit card is unexpectedly rejected at a point of purchase. Don’t shrug such an incident off and merely reach for another card to give to the retailer. Immediately check on your account by contacting the issuer of the card. If the card is attached to your bank account, look at your balance to see whether the funds are there. If they are, contact someone with that firm and ask for clarification as to why your transaction was denied.
• A mysterious charge appears on your account, no matter what amount. Scammers will often try making a tiny purchase to be sure the charge will work. This is a tactic that is especially favored by those who may have bought several account numbers at once through what are called “carder forums.” These are online bulletin boards where criminals buy and sell account numbers and information. Watch your account for charges that are unknown to you.
• Your monthly statement doesn’t arrive. Thieves will sometimes change the billing address on a hacked account to keep the account holder from seeing their statement and identifying illegal purchases made on it. Notice when a statement doesn’t arrive on time – it may be a good idea to write down the normal arrival times for statements – and contact the company immediately to identify the problem.
• A debt collection agency contacts you about a debt that you were not aware of. This is a likely sign that a thief has used your account. Resist the urge to ignore those calls from the collector. Ask questions. Examine any pertinent information carefully and be sure the debt is not of your doing.
Responding to identity theft
The Federal Trade Commission says that there are 9 million victims per year of ID theft. If you have identified yourself as one of those unfortunate millions, the good news is there are steps you can take.
Here is what the FTC recommends:
• Call one of the three national credit-reporting agencies. Tell them to put a fraud alert on your report. This action makes it mandatory that a business confirms that you are really you before they extend credit in your name.
• Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion Credit. By law each has to give you one free report each year.
• Go to ftc.gov/complaint and complete the complaint form. An identity theft report can be a vital step in controlling the damage done by a scammer.
• Visit ftc.gov/idtheft and find out more about how to respond to the ID scam.
• Notify all of your creditors about the theft and follow their advice on managing your accounts.
• File a police report.
• Keep records of all your calls and documents through this process of dealing with your identity theft. They will be useful later on.